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Posted 16.12.20

Living and working in London, Kasia Wozniak is a talented image maker, specialising in the process of wet plate collodion photography. A self taught ambrotypist who looks to put her own spin on fashion photography, we turned the lens back on Kasia to capture her in our pyjamas for our Autumn campaign, whilst simultaneously catching up with her. 

Turnbull: You are a self-taught photographer who moved to London from Poland, before studying at London College of Fashion and University of the Arts London. Please tell us more about your photography journey.

Kasia: I studied photography at the London College of Communication and then completed my MA at London College of Fashion. During my studies, I assisted fashion and portrait photographers, as well as worked on post-production and print with the legendary Brian Dowling from BDI.

I came across wet plate collodion photographs while visiting one of the biggest flea markets in Vienna. Instantly struck by the beauty and 'time' it captured, I decided to explore it further. I was studying fashion photography at that time the excitement of being able to slow down, create something tangible and apply it to fashion was irresistible. When I began, there were a few courses that I could attend in London. However, there was the British Library, where I could find many fantastic photography manuals from the nineteenth century. This is really how my adventure began.

Craft is an integral part of what we do here at Turnbull. Please tell us a bit more about the Wet Plate Collodion technique, and what drew you to this way of working? Was it challenging to teach yourself? Are there any other practitioners working in this way?

In my photographic practice, I used to shoot mainly on film. I loved working with time and multiple exposures, printing, and experimenting in the darkroom. What intrigued me in the wet plate collodion process, was the time that this method takes. It is almost like a time machine that traps our eyes and minds. I was curious if it was possible to create timeless photographs, despite the heaviness of the process. Especially in fashion when the exposure becomes a fleeting moment.

Craft and tangibility were what I felt attracted to at first when I decided to master wet plate collodion. The ceremonial aspect of working is what I felt drawn to.

I felt excited by the possibility of getting to know and working with different elements, creating my photographic chemistry, cutting the size of the negative and then taking control of the development of each photograph in the darkroom. Each failure, mistake, and the possibility of being able to overcome it was thrilling. I love the closeness of this process, despite dating back to 1850s, being almost a dinosaur in photographic history it is not far from a polaroid. To be able to maintain and build things for my camera, darkroom, archiving of plates is a big part of it which I enjoy very much.

You work in portraiture, still life and fashion photography. What do you look for in a subject? And how has your work been affected by the recent lockdown?  

Every shoot is different. It often depends on the direction I would like to take when it comes to editorial and fashion shoots. Sometimes I work with casting directors, sometimes it can be a street encounter that becomes significant. It is an immediate feeling of desire to record something that I see in a person. It is important for me, living in London to weave multicultural characters into a story. I rarely work with one model there are often four or five characters appearing on the day. There are a few faces that I have enjoyed working with over the years. The best example is India Grove, who became someone that appears often in my work. The phase of my shoots is much more intimate and slower than usual. The exposure times go up to 60 seconds. I do not take many photographs therefore a connection made with the sitter is incredibly important. Sometimes it becomes almost like a theatre, each photograph takes time to stage, requires stillness and patience.

Due to lockdown, many things have been postponed. However, I used this time creatively at my studio to experiment, research and focused on my projects. I created beautiful still life photographs with David Nolan, which we wanted to do for a long time and finally had the opportunity to make it happen.

For your editorial projects, how do you begin building out concepts? And where do you go for inspiration? 

It often begins with a quote from a book I am reading, current news or artwork I see. Or a walk by the sea. I look through many books, films, images recorded by the mind. Sometimes it can be a person that seems to be incredibly striking, London is great for that!

What role do chance and experimentation play in your work, because working in such a manual way can so often lead to such beautiful surprises, right? 

The experimentation and chance make up a big part of my creative process. I decided to embrace and expose the 'mistakes' I make. Victorian photographers aimed for perfect, clear photographs. I admire each trace of time, the chemistry that is left behind on the plate. Sometimes I like to manipulate them in the darkroom. I often cut photographs, use multiple exposures, contaminate the chemicals, and manipulate things in the darkroom. Taking these risks is important to me. 

I have recently collaborated with a jeweller Lucie Gledhill; we produced a body of works called SWAP that we were lucky to present a few days before lockdown during the Collect exhibition at the Somerset House. I was dissolving silver pieces made by Lucie in nitric acid to obtain silver nitrate that is the main component of my photographs. An element that makes photographs light sensitive. Excited by the possibility of sharing the material that we have in common in both of our practices we played a lot with chance, through various incidents we were exposed to things that were unexpected and exciting in the outcome. Experimentation, in a way, means progress and often leads to inspiration.

Finally, how was it having the tables turned for our AW20 shoot and stepping in front of the camera? How was it working with Ben and David and the team again? 

I sometimes take self-portraits, but without anyone around, it is such a different experience! I expect others to follow my directions, but I often struggle to stay still myself during prolonged exposure times. 

It was a delightful experience we had a lovely afternoon with Ben, David, and  the Turnbull team at my studio. 

I admire David's artistic vision greatly. He has a phenomenal eye for detail and is full of ideas. I enjoy working with him very much, and it was a treat to be dressed by him. Ben is a fantastic portrait photographer he made me feel at ease - we had a great laugh. It was a real honour to be photographed by him and observe him working. It is always exciting to see other fellow photographers behind the camera.

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Daniel Challis

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